Edward ZengRFID is booming in China, and nobody knows this better than Edward Zeng, who is the Founder, Chairman and CEO of both Sparkice, a leader in BtoB Global Commerce; and Sparkice Lab, China's leading Visibility Service Provider powered by RFID.

Edward is also a senior IT advisor to the Chinese government and a visiting professor at the Business School of Tsinghua University. The China State Policy Research Office and Commissioner of the Global Information Infrastructure Committee have also appointed him as a project leader. He was named as one of the Global Leaders for Tomorrow by the World Economic Forum at Davos, Switzerland in 1998.

What does RFID mean to China and why is it important for China to take a leading global position on RFID technologies?

China is the world's manufacturing hub. It is 'ground-zero' for innovations and applications in the development of manufacturing infrastructure and capabilities. China is the starting point for a huge chunk of the global supply-chain.

RFID is integral as the next generation technology in optimizing management and efficiencies in the global supply chain. Much of the infrastructure in animal tracking, airports, and large retailers can be RFID-enabled. By 2010, almost half of RFID tags are expected to be sold in East Asia, followed by 32% in the US. The China RFID Market spend is forecasted to be a close to a billion dollar market in just a few years.

Therefore, as the largest and fastest growing emerging economy, it is natural for China to take a leading role in developing and driving the application of RFID technologies to further enhance its manufacturing and industrial prowess. RFID presents China an opportunity to be a provider of technologies and not just a consumer.

What is the R1 RFID China Alliance and what are its mandates?

It is the sole China-based organization empowered by the Ministry of Information Industry and National Development and Research Council to research and recommend RFID technology standards and drive RFID take-up through pilot and commercial programs across industry verticals in China.

The Alliance ecosystem includes global RFID solution providers, user companies and Chinese government ministerial and policy-making organizations bringing solutions to bear across various industry verticals in China.

SparkiceLab is the founding member of this Alliance and I am honoured and privileged to be elected as the Secretary General of the R1 RFID China Alliance. Our mission and mandate is to advance industrial and national competitiveness in RFID as a leading edge, emerging technology (RFID was announced as key strategic initiative of China's National 11th Five-Year Plan). Currently, the RFID China Alliance is located at Sparkice headquarters.

How are EPCglobal, UID, NPC, and ISO working with you in China?

We have a collaborative working relationship with all international standards organizations whereby China can develop and implement an interoperable standard which will complement and enhance the existing global standards infrastructure and platform.

EPC (subsidiary of GS1) has committed to support and help the R1 Alliance and Sparkice Lab in developing associated interoperable standards with GS1 (EPC). The ISO community (through the Joint Working Group, Supply Chain Applications of RFID) has endorsed the R1 Alliance and Sparkice Lab as the leading proponents to develop an associated interoperable standard for China. The China National Registry of Product and Service Codes (NPC), has entrusted and appointed Sparkice (through Power of Attorney) as the integrator entity for national unified product and service codes. Sparkice is also the authorized UID Center for China.

Last year Sparkice and South African RFID specialist iPico formed a Chinese company. What are the goals for this venture over the next three years?

We are very pleased with have this JV with iPico whom you might know as a leading, highly innovative RFID solutions provider. Through a joint venture for Greater China (with Sparkice Lab holding 51%), Sparkice has IP to a leading total RFID product line whose advantages match the needs of the China market.

This has further augmented Sparkice capabilities to be a first mover in China-based solutions (including RFID products based on iP-X as a domestic China standard technology). The key points of the venture are that the JV (51% owned by Sparkice Lab, 49% by iPico) shall have all IP and exclusive sales rights for iPico products in greater China.

The JVs RFID products are designed for low-cost and high performance. In addition to EPC UHF tags and readers, the JV sells a full range of iP-X protocol RFID products. The patented dual-frequency technology is unique in the RFID product space and provides unparalleled performance in high moisture and metal applications such as people and animal tracking, containers, fresh produce and perishables.

Because of the lower cost and higher performance of iP-X, Sparkice Lab has submitted to China's Ministry of Information Industry, the iP-X protocol as a candidate for China standards. Our goal, therefore, can be summarized as continuing to drive and build upon our leadership position in China as a complete RFID technology and service solutions provider across key verticals.

What are some of the challenges in getting RFID standardized, established and recognized in China?

Challenges in terms of interoperability, cost-effectiveness have been addressed and standards have been proposed. We have recommended the iP-X air-interface protocol. We believe that this protocol will more than meet the needs and expectations of the Chinese government and RFID industry as an advanced, interoperable, flexible and sound standard.

To this end, the R1 RFID china Alliance will serve as the designated body to engage with all constituents in the RFID community and realize the results of this important development.

It seems like so many RFID companies are doing business in China. Is there still room for new players?

Yes, there are definitely opportunities. As the incumbent leading Visibility Service Provider in China, we continue to find new companies to partner and work with developing technologies for China and rolling-out RFID projects and large-scale programs. We have already taken a leadership position in the retail, airport, livestock tracking, anti-counterfeiting verticals but there are other less developed verticals/industry sectors where perhaps there is more opportunity for new players.

Do you have some advice you can give to RFID specialist companies hoping to enter China?

Companies hoping to make a splash in China have to really understand the China market, be pro-active and fluent in customer engagement, take a long-term view and deliver on customer expectations and requirements with appropriate, localized solutions.

They can achieve this by partnering with already established Chinese companies that have a strong presence in the market through strong relationships with local and international partners, user companies and China government entities. Ability to engage and deliver on IP localization for the China market through a JV or other means of partnership would be a powerful catalyst in penetrating and reaping the benefits of the China RFID market.

We have successfully done this with international companies that have brought over their technologies and localized it for the China market.

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